Light is meant for dark places. Jesus’ life testifies to this fact. His life was aimed at the darkness, not the light. He moved away from the religious elite of His day and towards those they looked down upon. Disciples live like Jesus lived. They walk like He walked and talk like He talked, so why is it that the average Christ-follower loses contact with all non-believing friends within two years of their conversion?
Disciples dwell with the lost. Disciple making cultures are aimed at the lost.
The fourth mark of a disciple making culture is that it's aimed toward the lost.
The current reality of the church in America is like a rocket sitting upside down on a launchpad. In many ways, it’s locked and loaded, but it’s aimed at the wrong thing. Despite numerous attempts to prepare and ignite for launch, it’s stuck. It’s not stuck because it lacks the needed resources (fuel, training, astronauts, etc.), but because its foundational direction is misaimed.
To be clear, I’m not saying pastors and church leaders have caused the problem. They haven't They didn’t put the shuttle upside down. They inherited the situation. Most are aware that something is wrong and are working tirelessly to figure out what it is with the goal of fixing it. These shuttle captains are trying to get the rocket to launch. They’re filling it with fuel (passion for Christ), building a resilient fuselage (relationally connecting people), developing shuttle protocol (helping people learn to be intentional), and equipping people to learn how to do the work (depth and dexterity with the Word), but none of this matters as much as which direction the shuttle is facing. As long as it faces inward, the shuttle will be stuck.
Jesus’ shuttle was perfectly aimed. Fortunately, He was explicit in communicating about the mission of His life. He came to bring light in order to rescue people from the darkness (John 12:46) He came to seek and save the lost . He came for the sinning people, not the righteous people (Mark 2:17). There are other reasons He came: to testify to the truth, to give his life as a ransom for many, to bring peace, etc, but all hold together within the context of the lost.
The life Jesus lived was aimed at the darkness. Jesus wasn’t just a friend to sinners, he was a friend of them. In other words, they considered Him a friend. Jesus and sinners were so tight that it made the religious people uncomfortable. He was known as one of them. Think about it, He was tighter with the tax collectors, prostitutes, and irreligious than He was with the religious people. No wonder the Pharisees and Sadducees felt so threatened when He challenged their teachings!
Paul’s shuttle was aimed at the darkness too. Though a Jew of Jews, Paul and his team would move into Gentile neighborhoods and share not just the Gospel of God, but their lives as well. They dwelled with the Thessalonians and in the process of loved so deeply that people were transformed by Jesus. The quality of their relationships was characterized by love, not information delivery or transfer. The friendships that developed were heart relationships that Paul carried with him long after he left the city.
In the past forty years, many churches have sought to orient their shuttle around the lost. They have changed everything from sermons to music to expectations to attract more non-religious types. It hasn’t worked. This well-meaning approach was born out of the church’s inward focus. The underlying assumption is that the lost should come to join them. It turns out, by and large, the lost aren’t too interested in church gatherings.
Changing the Sunday experience was a great attempt to right the shuttle, but it’s not what Jesus did. Jesus didn’t establish a new kind of synagogue where His sin-loving friends would feel more comfortable. He didn’t invite the lost into his retreats with the Twelve. Instead, he went to them. He cared about them so much that His lifestyle included them. He dwelled with them!
Unfortunately, isn't easy. It's costly and uncomfortable, especially when we're seeking to dwell with those whose life priorities are so different is uncomfortable and costly.
Disciple making cultures are aimed at the darkness. They make disciples who understand the context of their call to be “children of God” is to be lived out in the darkness of “a crooked and depraved generation. It has to be that way because light is meant for the darkness. And it’s there that we’ll “shine like stars in the universe as they live their lives” (Philippians 2:15-16).
So what does this practically look like? Disciple making cultures aimed at the darkness can take many forms, but here are a few distinctives I’ve seen:
1. Preaching is sprinkled with personal stories. The stories show that the pastor’s life is enmeshed with lost people. Not only is he continuing to learn, but he’s also a person to be emulated. He can say with Paul, “Follow my example as I follow Christ.”
2. Teaching is focused on equipping people to live like Christ among the lost. For most religious people this task is a cross-cultural mission. Most must conquer fears of rejection and persecution before they’ll go. It’s not easy, but it is doable. The measurable goal is to be a friend of, not a friend to. One question I ask myself and others as check is, “When was the last time a non-Christian invited you to do something together?”
3. Margin is intentionally created by church leaders to encourage people to dwell with lost people. Since THE #1 obstacle to Christ-like living is busyness, church leaders choose to leave some “empty seats” in people’s schedules. Some churches do this by cutting programs that require a lot of volunteers to maintain, others have small groups meet every other week instead of every week, others schedule both small groups and church service for Sundays, leaving the rest of the week open. Regardless of how, dwelling with the lost, requires time.
What’s your church aimed at? Is it focused on making more members? Increasing giving or knowledge of the Scriptures? Maybe it’s focused on making disciples, but has yet to connect that mission with reaching those outside the church.
God’s people are in the world to glorify God by offering our lives to fulfill what’s in the front of His mind, reaching the nations of lost people for His glory. Making disciples is a way to multiply workers for the task, however it’s not the task. The task is bringing Jesus to the nations.
Light is meant for darkness and shuttles are meant to aim towards the darkness. In most disciple making cultures it’s this piece that takes the most time to develop, but it’s essential.